Friday, January 28, 2011

New year, new adventures...

On the first weekend of the year we decided to take a little field trip--both as a way of taking advantage of the last couple "Christmas break" days and as a way of setting the tone for the things we want to do as a family this year. (One of our goals is to take trips, even short ones around Ohio, to places we like and places we've been wanting to see...)

So our first trip of the year was to the Great Circle Mound in Newark, Ohio. Did you know that central Ohio has some of the oldest and most important mounds built in North America? I sure didn't, at least before a few years ago. (Just a mile down the road is the Octagon Earthworks, which has been made into a golf course. Don't ask. The most amazing discoveries are being made about that place--about how it aligns not with a solar calendar but a lunar one... I'll write about that another time...)

(Here's a view from one section of the wall that people are allowed to stand on top of, near the entrance...)

The Great Circle Mound is gigantic. Its entrance is aligned to the east (just like many native structures through time, down to today), and at its center is a mound shaped a bit like an arrowhead or cross with its arms tilted down, so that the center mound points east.

(This oak stands near the center mound...)

(I like to look up into its branches!)

Nowadays there are trees inside the circle--my favorites are the gigantic oaks--though archeologists say there probably would not have been when it was in use. There's lots of discussion and disagreement about how the Great Circle Mound functioned--a meeting place, a place to do ceremonies, a place to trade, etc. And the archeological findings are ambiguous. No one right story seems to be emerging about it.

(Another view of the walls... Some people speculated at first that the structure was for defense, but that doesn't make much sense with the trenches on the INside...)

And yet when you're there, you feel its power. It was an important place. And is.

Several groups are trying to have the Earthworks added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites--as a way to protect them and increase awareness about their significance. (The Ohio Historical Society has charge of caring for several of the nominated sites now, and of course, like most other things Ohio, their budget has been decimated the past few years.)

We always take tobacco with us and make an offering on our way in. And then we walk around in it. And something odd happens with time and space...

I think I've read somewhere that you could fit four football fields inside the circle. The earthen walls that form the circle must be a least 12 or 14 feet high. The place is absolutely giant. It dwarfs the giant oaks. And it was built by hand.

(Okay, to see how giant this oak is, look for me on the bottom left, giving the tree a hug...)

(... and yet those same trees look small in the circle... here's a little section of the curved wall...)

I noticed on this trip that when Patrick or Dexter would walk out on their own, within what seemed like only a few seconds they looked tiny, far away.

And time just sort of disappeared, on this visit. The world seemed to fall away from our attention. The Great Circle is surrounded by highways, and yet you can't hear the cars when you're inside it.

It seemed like we were in there for maybe 10 minutes, just walking around and saying hello to the trees, looking at the sky, exploring. And when we emerged, we found that an hour had gone by.

(There's a small "garden" there of native Ohio plants; this one is milkweed, whose stems provided the ancient people with fiber to make string and rope. Is it a surprise that I seek out--and find--fiber sources everywhere I go?)

One of my favorite memories of being at the mound was when I attended a conference about the similarities between the mounds in Newark, Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramids in Mexico. A group of Aztec dancers came, people who dance as a form of praying at the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon in Mexico. We danced with them, and the heavens opened and poured down rain on us, and we kept on dancing. I talked with a man who's danced inside Stonehenge at the solstice. It was a magical time!

So our little family started the year at a magical place, giving thanks for the people who have walked this land before us, asking for strength to face our challenges and mindfulness to notice beauty and peace.

I'm sure we'll be back before too long. May you find magical places where you live!


Friday, January 7, 2011

Rest in peace, Grandpa

(Alice & Don, 1986)

We are mourning the passing of Patrick's dad, Don.

He lived an amazing life. He was orphaned in the 1930s in South Dakota. He had older siblings (the closest one was much older and had a family of her own), but the Depression hit very hard there, and families literally could not feed one more person. Don told us stories about living at the orphanage for a while, then a sibling's house, then the orphanage; it was a difficult life. A couple summers ago we went to his hometown and he told us stories about being there, about working in a factory making wooden boxes when he was about the age my son is now. (I marvel at the strength it took just to get by back then.)

(Don & Alice during their dating days)

When he reached adulthood, he served in World War II in Italy and North Africa. He developed a talent in photography, which served him well after he came back home; he went to college, and then went to work for South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks. He eventually became the state parks manager. Patrick tells stories of his dad creating parks (like the one at Sandy Shores), and of taking the family out to take photos for the brochures that would promote the various state parks.

He and Alice were married for more than 60 years, and together raised four kids.

(The Allen family in 1963)

I met him when he was retired, and was lucky enough to go on a few hikes with him and Alice (my mother-in-law) at Farm Island, near Pierre, South Dakota. And I use the word "hike" advisedly: the first time we went with them, I thought I was going to be taking a lovely stroll with this retired couple and that I'd have to be patient with the slow pace. But when we got out there, they were moving FAST and I had to work to keep up! Don could identify every tree and every plant we came across. When I picked up a feather that was lying on the trail and wondered out loud what kind of bird it came from, he knew right away what it was.

I'm sad for the fact that he will not see Dexter as he grows into a man. But I'm also grateful that we managed to go out there every summer for the past few years, and that Dexter knows his Grandpa and Grandma so far away.

And I'm really sad for Alice. She and Don were inseparable for more than 60 years. They were each other's best friend. They understood each other in ways no one else could. In the end, she knew it was selfish of her to want him to stay--he was having difficulty breathing, and was really working hard and was tired. But she couldn't imagine him not being here.

(Gone fishin', August 2010)

And I suppose that's the other part that's hard to deal with: He is just not here anymore. He will live on in our stories and memories and photographs; but we will miss him.

Please hold us in the light, friends, and help us pray for his crossing.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Holiday report

I've been remiss in sharing our holiday update--partly because it was a mixed bag this year. Various personal issues plus the crazy weather meant that we didn't get to see family, and other personal issues made the holiday kind of difficult. Without going into all the details: it was not all sweetness and light this year in our household.

But we survived, and there were some sweet moments as well as funny ones, so that's what I'll share. Sit back and enjoy the photos, 'cause here they come!

First off, I didn't post anything about Thanksgiving... I have such conflicted emotions about that day. I have always wanted to go to Massachusetts to participate in the National Day of Mourning, a protest staged every year by the United American Indians of New England (a controversial group, to be sure). But we stay home, our time off and traveling funds being limited, and I teach my students about our Thanksgiving myth being a myth, and at home we talk about the realities of early American life and intercultural relations. I definitely engage in some myth-busting.

And yet I am also glad to have a holiday where we get to realize that we are truly thankful for the good things we enjoy. This year, one of those things: Dexter helped prepare the meal. Woohoo! Here are the cranberries he made:

(They were delicious!)

Dexter also brought us Christmas joy with his violin-playing. For the second year, he joined our friend Jonalyn's cello choir and they played the nursing-home circuit here in our town, where everyone taps their toes and sings along.

(You can't really see the musicians in this shot, but I rather liked experiencing the evening this way...)

(Here are some of the musicians; bad shot, but you get a sense of how large the group is!)

(Here's a smaller subset at another nursing home. There were some GOOD singers at this place! Plus, they fed us cookies afterward--score!)

(And here's a smaller subset still, after their short performance at the Presbyterian church. They are awesome and goofy and made my day.)

As per usual, we got a real tree this year. The place where we get it had Holiday Goings On that day; I didn't get a photo of the Grinch & Max, but here's something neat:

(Ice sculptor! Noisy but impressive!)

As we were looking at this one tree, Dexter noted how crazy the top looked with one spike sticking way up, and BINGO, that was our tree.

(Here it is, perhaps in a nostalgic mood? We couldn't fit the topper on the top, so it's kind of hanging off the side there.)

We went to the Big Malls, which we typically try to avoid. These two, a father-and-son duo playing Celtic tunes, were definitely the best thing about Easton on the night we shopped there:

(Easton has faux streets, but at least real street musicians...)

With finals and grading, violin rehearsals and performances, and whatnot, everything seemed to be on the last-minute schedule this year. I finished my shopping on the 23rd, and finally baked cookies (my favorites) on the 24th--we had to have cookies for Santa! (I tried to get Timbits when it looked like the cookies might not happen, but Timmy Ho's was closed!)

(The first couple dozen; we ended up with at least 8 dozen, I think.)

And Dexter decided that, in addition to cookies, Santa probably needed something healthy. Plus a beer.

(I think this is actually a nicely balanced snack for Santa...)

We all enjoyed our presents, including the cats...

(Pirate unwrapped his all by himself!)

(Peaches can play with two at once!)

... and it was cold out, so Baby Jesus enjoyed the extra straw, I think...

(I've had this manger set for years! We always give Baby J. extra straw at the end of Wigilia, our traditional Polish dinner on Christmas Eve.)

... and what could be better than new Wii games AND a psychedelic snuggie?

The guys spent much of the break flying planes (Blazing Angels) and I even got into throwing things at the teevee (Boom Blox).

(It's hard to fly a plane with a cat in your lap...)

And, apropos of nothing, I'm pretty sure these are the best $10 New Year's Eve shoes EVAR:

(I enjoyed wearing them!)

I have a bunch of Christmas Weirdness photos from around our little town that I'll post separately soon. For now, I'll end this post with one of my favorite Dexter presents from this year:

So cute! And yet so gross! (Which is, incidentally, the perfect combo. for a 12-year-old boy...)

Hope your holidays were good, y'all!